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The Fish and the Refugee Camp

To Ziad Khaddash



If you see me drowning,
do not throw me a life buoy.
Throw me a fish.
She swims better than me.



If I see a fish drowning on the seashore,
I won’t put her back in the water.
We will go together to a vegan restaurant.
She’ll have an algae salad, and I’ll have a sage tea.
We will talk about our families, how we grew up,
how we imagine our future.

We feel sad for each other.

I’ll then offer her lipstick.
Perhaps a killer whale will love her,
protect her from the shark, when she’s back.

I will give her regal perfume.
But the killer whale doesn’t smell, the fish tells me.
Then, I’ll teach her to sing a Fayrouz song,
“I loved you till I forgot sleep,
coz I feared you’d forget me. ”

If that doesn’t work, then I’ll take
my little boat to the middle of the ocean,
and the whale shall dance on the fish’s small chest.



Someday, the fish, her friend the whale, and I will go
find the treasure chest thousands of heroes in novels
had searched for. We will sell it, build a castle
in the middle of the Sea no one could reach.



So, I’ll give the fish my address in the camp,
tell her that in the camp there are no street names,
no house numbers.

I’ll say to her:
You slide through the northern side of the camp,
then take a narrow street on the right.
Most paths are narrow and covered with stones.

On your left, a child and his mother sell
fresh vegetables and fruit in their small shop.
On your right stands an old man selling bread.
He gives some salty duqqa or ground thyme
to every buyer.

Then you will take another street on the left.
It’s very thin.
Last time when I bought a new desk, it didn’t fit
in the street. I had to disassemble it
and lost most of the screws.



Tin sheets cover our house.
A picture of my grandfather hangs on the door.
Be careful not to dirty your body
with the rust on our door.



I will ask the sky to rain when you set foot
in the camp so you won’t get thirsty
or forget how to swim.
In the camp, swimming pools form without
workers or engineers.



You will enter our house without knocking on the door.
Two cups of fresh tea will be waiting for us on the kitchen table.
We need to get our stomachs warm.
The camp gets very cold at night

I’ll be sitting on a wooden chair
I inherited from my grandfather.
Behind me, you’ll see many old books,
children’s books my father bought for me.

I will be writing these lines when you jump on my notebook.
I’ll stand and open my Treasure Island Marine Life book
and put you on it.
The whale will be there on page 5.
As for me, I’m big. I’ll put a photo of me
beside you, and my toy seahorse.

When I go to sleep,
you’ll whisper to my image “See you soon,”
before I cover the book with a paper
on which I wrote this poem.

Painting by Richard Hoffman


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